"Ajay sir will quickly wrap up a channel interview and come up in a few minutes,” says his long-time manager, ushering me to the star’s suite in a five-star suburban hotel.
Minutes slip into an hour but there is no sign of Ajay Devgn.
A little while later he walks in.
No showing off, no noisy entourage and no starry aura, not even for a second did I feel that a movie star had entered the room. Yet, odd as it might seem to some, I think Ajay Devgn’s sex appeal and his magnetism lies in his nonchalant demeanour and compelling honesty. There is something very raw about this man and perhaps that is his greatest connect with the audience. “A man should be like man — real and rugged,” he says, lighting a cigarette.
Never mind Rascals (2011) and forget Himmatwala, Ajay has moved on. This year he has got Singham 2, Prabhudheva’s film and a few more to finalise from among many other scripts. Gung ho about his upcoming film Satyagraha, Ajay prepares himself for a candid chat.
Here are some excerpts from the interview.
We have just recovered from Himmatwala. Your next film Satyagraha is coming up, but you haven’t indulged in aggressive promotions despite admitting that marketing is the key to success today. Why is that?
I agree that marketing is vital and we have done whatever is required to push it (our film). It has no item numbers and such films are not easy to promote. This film has a different sensibility and isn’t competing with anyone, so we have done our best and left everything to the audience.
Don’t you want Kajol to make a comeback in movies?
Of course I do, but with the right kind of films. We’re working on a script for her. Hopefully it shall happen soon. I won’t be acting in it, but I’ll be producing it. She is very hard-working and follows a healthier diet and workout regimen than me.
The multiplex war, which started with your film last year, was in the news again with Balaji Films and UTV Motion Pictures locking horns. What are your thoughts on that?
I anticipated this outcome in their fight because I went through it myself. But I stood my ground, and I succeeded in whatever way I did. I went to court as well. At that point, there were a lot of whispers in the industry that I wasn’t justified in taking legal action. I knew at that point that it wasn’t going to help my film in way but I could see that it was going to become a bigger problem for others. But nobody took me seriously and today it is happening to someone else. Anyway, the bottom line is clear that there is no unity in the industry. So let people suffer.
Could you elaborate on that?
I’m not gleeful at someone’s suffering, but unless you experience it you will not know the problem. It’s emerging that the film industry has no unity. In the south (southern film industries), there is so much unity amongst the producers and nobody can mess around.
But would you have withdrawn from the theatres if your film was doing roaring business? What do you think are the dynamics of this kind of war? A play for power, perhaps?
If I had made a promise I would have. It’s about principles. But again, to each his own. I have nothing to say. Coming to your second part more than power play, it’s the studios that have started these sorts of practices. For instance, one studio makes eight films in a year and another is making only three. So, the studio with eight films has more power and if they will put in their demands saying, ‘I’ll not give you all of my eight films if don’t give me X number of screens’, then theatres owners have no option but to give in.
Your friend Rohit Shetty has given Shah Rukh Khan — touted as your rival — the biggest opening for a movie so far. What kind of thoughts crossed your mind?
I’m happy for Rohit. When Rohit and Shah Rukh met for the first time, Rohit called me up and said, this is what I have been requested to do. I said you just go ahead and do it. Frankly, I don’t know about the film because I haven’t seen it, but I’m glad that it has made money. It’ll certainly have a spiralling and a positive effect on things to come. It’s good for the industry, good for Rohit and very good for Singham 2.
If you say it’s a good sign, what do you find unpleasant about it?
It’s like global warming. Industries are increasing, productivity is enhanced but we are ruining the environment. It’s an unhealthy sign when you’re talking about human relationships.
Do you sit to discuss the promotions of your films when the marketing is strategised?
Yes, I do sit and discuss how a film should be promoted. But, I don’t want to cross a point and do stupid things that’ll appear stupid in my own eyes. I’m not judging anyone, but I’m not stooping to some level to promote a film. There are a lot of things people create like issues and controversies, and they play games, among other things. I wouldn’t go to that level as I don’t believe in all this just to promote a film.
Don’t you think Botox is important for film stars as they have to be in front of the cameras?
It depends on what you want and how you want to grow on or off the screen. If you decide those lines look nice on you, then they do. Hollywood is a great example. When you talk about Pierce Brosnan, Robert De Niro or anybody in their old age, they have their presence intact and you don’t mind seeing them on screen. But, if you talk about Tom Cruise, who looked handsome in a boyish look, I think age will not look good on him.
Do you enjoy playing gangster roles in films?
It is fine once in a while. I was offered a gangster film recently but I refused. I have a staggered approach to choosing roles. When I played a don in Company (2002), people appreciated my role and years later I did Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (OUATIM; 2010). So, in my head, I worked out strategies how to enact it differently. Right now, if I have to play another don, I will have to figure out how to portray it differently.
Coming back to the multiplex war, what do you think is causing disorder in the film industry? What could be the possible solution to such problems?
Everybody is out to kill each other and do their own business. Competition is getting steep. I don’t want to take names, but if they don’t get united, it will get worse. It’s sad but that’s the truth and I’m not scared to speak it.
A law has to be passed. Two years ago, when two films were to release at the same time, either on Diwali, Eid or some other festival, everyone used to get a fair share of theatres, success and money. Look at Dil (1990) and Ghayal (1990) or Lagaan (2001) and Gadar (2001), they released on the same day and did well. That’s because they were not trying to secure their film and kill the other. Everybody is going to fall in the trap until some law is made. My case is in the court, I don’t know what will happen. But, if tomorrow everybody unites, the law will be made.
You’re an actor who has successfully experimented in every genre, be it comedy, drama, action or serious roles. But what is your comfort zone?
As an actor, I cannot be comfortable being unidimensional. I’m lucky that audiences have accepted me in every genre. That’s a great compliment for an actor. If I have done a comedy role, it gets difficult for me to immediately take up a similar role again. I have a staggered approach to choosing my films.
Movie stars make a lot of money?
It’s a magnified perception. We make money, but compared to the big industrialists, it’s nothing. It’s the love and adulation of the public that is our biggest earning.
Satyagraha doesn’t sound like a commercial film.
Yet it is strong commercial film, which will have a huge connect with the audiences. I like the fact that this film is about the youth, their angst, their aspirations and how they want to take things forward. They want to lead, and that’s a great sign. Thirty years ago, the youth didn’t have as many opportunities as today. With job markets opening up, youngsters are more socially and economically empowered. They are more aggressive and fiery in their outburst.
Many feel this is a great time for Indian cinema. Do you feel similarly?
Yes, it’s a good time in many ways, but not without pitfalls. We may be rolling rapidly, but the soul of the film industry is gone. The warmth that marked relationships here is no more. Earlier we would just walk into each other’s set and say whatever we wanted to. We never misunderstood each other. We used to do films where we would make contracts just for the sake of tax returns and other such stuff. There was a lot of trust on principles. Today, you have to make fat contracts with each and every line highlighted. I understand these are part of a professional set-up, but I can also see a lot of distrust and scepticism creeping.
Can you elaborate on that?
In order to drive the system, the relationships are getting affected. I feel the older lot like us (not counting everyone) still share the same warmth, unlike the younger lot today. They are clear cut in their approach. I don’t think they mix their professional and personal lives. Unlike us, they don’t do films because so and so is their friend. They keep their emotions out of the work unlike us. In a way it’s good. It’s all become business oriented.
What do you do when you miss the good old days?
Nothing. You also become indifferent eventually and move on.
Ajay, you’re not perceived as someone very ambitious.
I’m ambitious in my own way. But that doesn’t mean I have to be cut-throat. I’m only concerned with my work and I also want my career to be on my own terms, which I’m doing. So I’m satisfied, happy and not on a chase.
You said you haven’t seen Once Upon… but you must have seen the promos. You’d played the don in the first part and Akshay Kumar has essayed the role of a don in this one. How do you rate him?
(Laughs) You can’t judge anything from the promos; you have to see the film to comment what the director has made him do. And, it is for the people to decide how he has done it. I might be a little biased also. So, I cannot judge anything and even if I feel anything, I will remain quiet about it.